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(Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
(Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Supreme Court Calendar: November 2017

The following summaries of upcoming Supreme Court arguments for November 2017 were prepared from information provided by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office.

 
Monday, Oct. 30, 2017

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor 

Russell Eldon Briles, Respondent/Cross-Appellant vs. 2013 GMC Terrain, MN License Number: 168KSE, VIN: 2GKFLZE3XD6336507, Appellant/Cross-Respondent – Case No. A16-0768: Respondent/Cross-Appellant Russell Briles owned the GMC vehicle that is the subject of this forfeiture proceeding. Briles’ son crashed the vehicle while driving it, both without Briles’ permission and while intoxicated, and damaged it beyond feasible repair. The vehicle was held for forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2016), and both Briles and his son received copies of a notice that the vehicle would be forfeited unless they filed a lawsuit and served the prosecuting authority within 60 days. Briles had no intent to recover the vehicle, but planned to file a claim on his automobile insurance policy. The forfeiture notice did not specifically mention insurance coverage or payments. In an attempt to recover the insurance proceeds, the county attorney sent a letter to Briles’ insurer requesting that the insurer contact the county attorney before inspecting the vehicle and urging it not to disburse any insurance proceeds until the forfeiture was resolved. Briles was not sent a copy of the letter.

After the 60-day filing deadline to challenge the forfeiture had passed, Briles learned about the county attorney’s letter to the insurer and filed an action seeking judicial determination of the forfeiture. The forfeiting authority moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction because it was untimely. The District Court granted the motion, finding that the notice to Briles was proper, and the insurance proceeds fell within the ambit of “all right, title, and interest” in the vehicle that the police had seized pursuant to § 169A.63. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the challenge to the forfeiture of the vehicle, but that “all right, title, and interest” in the vehicle did not include insurance payments owed to Briles because the vehicle was damaged.

On appeal to the supreme court, the following are issues presented: (1) whether any part of Briles’ challenge to the forfeiture was timely; and (2) whether the insurance payment was properly subject to forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63. (Scott County)\

 

Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Tony Webster, Appellant vs. Hennepin County, et al., Respondents – Case No. A16-0736: Appellant Tony Webster, a journalist researching the use of biometric technologies, requested access to government data under the Government Data Practices Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 13 (2016), from respondents Hennepin County and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Webster was unsatisfied with the response and filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings seeking a finding that respondents violated the Data Practices Act and an order compelling respondents to conduct a keyword search of e-mails.

An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined (1) that respondents failed to establish procedures to ensure that requests for data were received and complied with in an appropriate manner, as required by Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 2(a); (2) that respondents did not keep e-mails in an arrangement and condition to make them easily accessible for public use, as required by Minn. Stat. § 13.03, subd. 1; and (3) that respondents did not provide access to the requested e-mail data. On certiorari review, the Court of Appeals reversed in part with respect to procedures and arrangement, and affirmed in part with respect to providing access to data.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented are: (1) whether the ALJ’s findings that respondents violated the Data Practices Act with respect to procedures, and arrangement and condition, were correct; and (2) whether the Data Practices Act requires government agencies to perform keyword searches of e-mails. (Office of Administrative Hearings)

Court Park Company, et al., Respondent vs. County of Hennepin, Relator – Case No. A17-0962: Respondent Court Park Company is the owner of a parking ramp in downtown Minneapolis. Relator Hennepin County assessed the property’s value for tax purposes as $8.4 million for 2014, and $9.3 million for 2015. Court Park challenged the assessment, and at trial, the County’s appraiser estimated the market value of the property to be $8 million for 2014 and $8.9 million for 2015, while Court Park’s appraiser estimated the fair market value for the two tax years at $5.7 million and $6 million.

The Tax Court first denied the County’s motion to dismiss the taxpayer’s petition for failure to overcome the presumptive validity of the assessment. The court agreed that much of Court Park’s expert’s report and testimony lacked both sufficient foundation and credibility, but concluded nevertheless that, when viewing all of the evidence, including the county’s appraisal report, there was substantial evidence that the market value of the property was less than its assessed value. The Tax Court went on to conclude that the county overstated the market value of the property; Court Park submitted sufficient credible evidence to rebut the presumptive validity of the county’s assessment; and thus, the market value was $6.5 million for 2014, and $7.3 million for 2015.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issue is presented: whether the tax court erred by denying the county’s motion to dismiss for failure to overcome the prima facie validity of the assessment, where Court Park presented no credible evidence to dispute the county’s assessed value. (Minnesota Tax Court)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

Associated Bank, N.A. and Affiliates, Respondents vs. Commissioner of Revenue, Relator – Case No. A17-0923: In September 2007, Associated Banc-Corp, a bank holding company, created two limited liability companies (“LLCs”) under Wisconsin law for the purposes of holding real estate loans related to assets held by respondents Associated Bank and affiliates (“Associated Bank”). The new structure was intended to minimize Associated Bank’s Minnesota tax liability because the LLCs were excluded from the definition of “financial institutions” in Minn. Stat. § 290.01, subd. 4a (2016), and therefore were not subject to the apportionment rules applicable to corporations under Minn. Stat. § 290.191 (2016).

Relator Commissioner of Revenue audited Associated Bank and issued a Notice of Change of Tax. Associated Bank filed an administrative appeal, and the commissioner upheld the audit decision, which used an alternative apportionment method under Minn. Stat. § 290.20, subd. 1 (2016). Section 290.20, subdivision 1, provides that, upon a finding that the apportionment “methods prescribed by [Minn. Stat. § 290.191] do not fairly reflect all or any part of taxable net income allocable to this state,” the commissioner may “require the determination of net income by the use of another method, if that method fairly reflects net income.” The commissioner determined that the LLCs’ loan-interest income and loan values resulted from Minnesota business activity and therefore should have been included when calculating Associated Bank’s apportionment factors in order to “fairly allocate taxable net income of the Minnesota unitary group to Minnesota.”

Associated Bank appealed to the tax court, which reversed the commissioner’s order. The Tax Court found that the commissioner did not demonstrate that the apportionment methods prescribed by Minn. Stat. § 290.191, which are “presumed to determine fairly and correctly the taxpayer’s taxable net income allocable to Minnesota,” Minn. Stat. § 290.20, subd. 1, did not fairly reflect Associated Bank’s allocable net income.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issue is presented: whether the commissioner properly exercised her authority under Minn. Stat. § 290.20 to use an alternate apportionment method in order to fairly reflect the part of Associated Bank’s income earned through Minnesota business activity. (Minnesota Tax Court)

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Joseph Michael Capistrant, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 187112 – Case No. A17-0429: An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the matter.

 

Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Jamaine Jamie Williams, Appellant – Case No. A17-0001: In December 2015, Kavonta Pratt and Dominic Jasper were shot and killed in an apartment occupied by Joenisha Smith and Sabrina Lyons. A third man, Phillip Turner, was seriously wounded in the attack. The shooter was identified by several witnesses, including Lyons, as Lyons’ former boyfriend, appellant Jamaine Jamie Williams. Williams was eventually indicted for two counts each of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder, and one count each of attempted first- and second-degree murder.

During their investigation, police and prosecutors found Lyons to be a reluctant witness, and suspected Williams of trying to manipulate her testimony. Based on the state’s fear that Lyons would not appear at trial even if subpoenaed, the district court granted the state’s request to depose Lyons before trial. At trial, Lyons contradicted some of the things that police officers testified that she said in interviews, made some new claims, and said that she did not see the person who entered the apartment on the night of the shooting, despite having said in her deposition that it was Williams. A redacted transcript of Lyons’ deposition was admitted into evidence. The evidence at Williams’ jury trial also included testimony that, about a week before the shooting, Williams was at the apartment when Jasper and Pratt arrived. Suspecting that Lyons was dating one of the two men, Williams took out a gun and waved it around and threatened to kill everybody in the apartment. A jury found Williams guilty of first- and second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the District Court committed reversible error by allowing the state to depose Lyons before trial where the state failed to demonstrate there was a reasonable probability that Lyons would be unavailable at trial; (2) whether the evidence that Williams threatened the victims and others with a gun one week before the murders was properly admitted as relationship evidence under Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (2016) or Minn. R. Evid. 404(b); and (3) whether the cumulative effect of these alleged evidentiary errors denied Williams a fair trial. (Ramsey County)

Esmeralda Sorchaga, Respondent vs. Ride Auto, LLC, et al., Appellants – Case No. A16-0855: Respondent Esmerelda Sorchaga bought a used six-year-old pickup truck from appellant Ride Auto for $6,770. The truck, which had been purchased from a salvage yard, had serious motor damage—a fact known to representatives of Ride Auto but concealed from Sorchaga. During the test-drive and negotiation process, Sorchaga noticed that the check-engine light was on and the vehicle emitted smoke from the exhaust pipe. Representatives of Ride Auto told Sorchaga that these were minor problems that could be easily fixed. Sorchaga signed a purchase agreement that disclaimed separate and implied warranties, and a buyer’s guide that stated the truck was sold “AS IS – NO WARRANTY.” Ride Auto provided a separate warranty through a third party at no cost, and told Sorchaga that it would allow her to have the truck inspected and repaired at no charge, but in fact the warranty did not apply to that vehicle because it was a salvage vehicle, a fact of which Ride Auto was aware. Eight days after purchase, Sorchaga had the truck towed to a dealership and inspected, at a cost of $1,415. The dealer told her the truck should not be driven, and recommended a full engine replacement at a cost of approximately $20,000.

Sorchaga sued Ride Auto, alleging breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312 (2012), and fraud. After a bench trial, the district court ordered judgment for Sorchaga on all counts and awarded her $14,366.03 in damages and $21,949.35 in attorney fees and litigation expenses under the MMWA. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed. Construing Minn. Stat. § 336.2-316(3) (2016), which provides for a seller to exclude all implied warranties by “as is” language “unless the circumstances indicate otherwise,” the court concluded that an active misrepresentation as to the nature of the goods, relied upon by the buyer, is such a circumstance. And the court concluded that, on the facts of this case, Sorchaga could recover both for fraud and breach of implied warranty.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issue is presented: whether the District Court erred when it entered a rescission judgment on an “as-is” purchase contract on the grounds of fraud, and simultaneously awarded additional recovery for breach of a revived implied warranty in the rescinded contract. (Dakota County)

 

Monday, Nov. 6, 2017

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

Corey John Ouradnik, Respondent vs. Robert John Ouradnik, Appellant – Case No. A16-1516: Appellant Robert Ouradnik (“Ouradnik”) owns approximately 40 acres of land in Pine County. Respondent Corey Ouradnik (“Corey”) is one of Ouradnik’s adult sons. Ouradnik hunts on the land with his sons, but he has not opened the land to the public for hunting or other recreational activities.After Corey fell from a deer stand on Ouradnik’s property, he brought a personal injury action against Ouradnik. Ouradnik moved for summary judgment under Minnesota’s recreational land-use statutes, which alter the common-law duty of care and limit the liability of landowners who give “permission for the use of the land for recreational purposes without charge,” Minn. Stat. §§ 604A.22–.23 (2016).The District Court granted partial summary judgment to Ouradnik based on the recreational land-use statutes and, following a trial, directed entry of judgment for Ouradnik.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, concluding that the recreational land-use statutes apply only to landowners who offer private land for use by the general public for recreational purposes without charge. Therefore, the Court of Appeals determined that the District Court erred in granting partial summary judgment and instructing the jury on the duty of care.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issue is presented: whether the recreational land-use statutes protect only landowners who offer their land for use by the general public. (Pine County)

James F. Christie, Respondent vs. Estate of Dilman Christie, et al., Appellants – Case No. A16-1244: Respondent James Christie (“Christie”) brought an action against appellants, the estates of his parents Dilman and Dorothy Christie (“Estates”), alleging that his parents had breached an oral contract regarding the sale and repurchase of 470 acres of farmland. At trial, Christie relied on a breach-of-contract theory and sought only money damages. The District Court denied the estates’ request to instruct the jury that a party seeking to establish an oral contract has the burden of establishing the contract by clear-and-convincing evidence. The jury found that a contract was formed between Christie and his parents, that Christie’s parents breached the contract, and that Christie is entitled to $3,332,000 in damages. Based on the jury’s findings, the District Court found that Christie had “detrimentally relied on the agreement to a sufficient extent to justify taking the agreement out of the Statute of Frauds.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed. In these circumstances, where the parties “agreed to try this matter as if it were the breach of an oral contract for which damages were an acceptable remedy,” the Court of Appeals concluded that “the district court did not err by charging the jury to use the preponderance-of-evidence standard.” The Court of Appeals also concluded that there was “sufficient evidence to support the jury’s findings.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard applies to the alleged oral contract for the conveyance of real property; and (2) whether there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find there was an oral contract. (Fillmore County)

 

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

Great Northern Insurance Company, as subrogee of Scott and Leah Rued, Respondent vs. McMillan Electric Company, Appellant – Case No. A16-0997: Appellant McMillan Electric Company manufactured the electric motors that were used in heat-recovery ventilators (“HRVs”) installed as part of the ventilation system in a home that was constructed in 1996. In 2012, a fire occurred in one of the HRVs, which caused substantial property damage to the home. Respondent Great Northern Insurance Company, as subrogee of the homeowners, brought an action against McMillan and other defendants, which included claims for product liability, breach of warranty, and negligence. The District Court granted McMillan’s motion for summary judgment. The District Court concluded that the product-liability and breach-of-warranty claims are barred by the 10‑year statute of repose for improvements to real property in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2016). The District Court also concluded that McMillan did not have a post-sale duty to warn customers about the potential fire hazard.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. The Court of Appeals concluded that the HRV “satisfies the plain and ordinary meaning” of “equipment or machinery installed upon real property” under the exception to the statute of repose in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(e) (2016). The Court of Appeals also concluded that McMillan had a post-sale duty to warn.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the HRV is exempt from the statute of repose for improvements to real property because it is “equipment or machinery” pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(e); and (2) whether McMillan had a post-sale duty to warn. (Hennepin County)

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Amoun Vang Sayaovong, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0388894 – Case No. A15-1320: An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the matter.

 

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017

Courtroom 300, Minnesota Judicial Center

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Michelle Lowney MacDonald, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0182370 – Case No. A16-1282: An attorney discipline case that presents the question of what discipline, if any, is appropriate based on the facts of the matter.

State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Daryl Negel Curtis, Appellant – Case No. A17-0390: Appellant Daryl Negel Curtis was charged with first- and second-degree murder in connection with the June 12, 2016, shooting death of Renaldo McDaniel. McDaniel was with his cousin Zenetta McDaniel at the time of the shooting. Immediately following opening statements, a juror revealed to the court that she believed she had gone to high school with Zenetta McDaniel, and that she had seen a news report about the murder around the time it happened. Following questioning by the court, Curtis moved to have the juror removed, noting that if he had known this information during voir dire, he would have removed the juror peremptorily or exercised a challenge for cause. The court denied the request, reasoning that the juror demonstrated little or no knowledge of the case, had initially showed no familiarity with any of the witnesses, and indicated she would treat Zenetta the same as other witnesses.

During the trial, the court allowed Curtis to present evidence that another man, Dana Davis, committed the murder. While the court allowed evidence of two of Davis’ prior convictions, both related to firearms, it ruled that Curtis could not present “reverse-Spreigl” evidence of an unsolved shooting that occurred approximately four weeks earlier, on May 14, 2016. Forensic analysis had connected the earlier shooting to the McDaniel murder weapon, and Curtis sought to introduce evidence that connected Davis to that shooting. The court reasoned that Curtis had not demonstrated Davis’ involvement in the May 14 shooting by clear and convincing evidence.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the following issues are presented: (1) whether the District Court abused its discretion when it denied Curtis’ request to remove a juror who knew a witness and was exposed to media coverage of the murder, for bias, and whether the court violated Curtis’ rights to exercise a peremptory challenge and to an impartial jury when the court failed to remove the juror after Curtis indicated he would have used a peremptory strike on the juror; and (2) whether the District Court abused its discretion by excluding the reverse-Spreigl evidence that Curtis asserted connected the alternative perpetrator, Davis, to the charged offense. (Ramsey County)

 

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